Once you've met Spotted Touch-me-not (Impatiens capensis) you'll likely never forget her. While the orange flowers of this plant are showy and distinct, the narrow fruit capsules are what grab my attention. Foraging teacher Russ Cohen first revealed to me the inner beauty of this species -- also known by the common name Jewelweed -- during one of his public walks. (If you've studied with Russ and met this plant, you likely know where this post is headed).
To experience the plant's seedy secret, start by locating a thriving population. Spotted Touch-me-not favors moist soils, so scan the edges of streams, ponds, and other wetlands for orange flowers. Next, look for the 1" long green capsules. Once ripe these capsules will explode at the slightest touch, so grab one carefully so as to capture the entire contents in your hand. Now take one of the newly unveiled seeds, rub off the seed coat (which is brown when mature), and witness the tiny light blue seed. I bet you didn't expect that!
If that's not impressive enough, the seeds themselves, with or without the seed coat, taste like walnuts. I've never consumed them in quantity, but enjoy snacking on a dozen or so when I happen upon a fruit-filled patch in late summer. And so long as the plant is flowering, be alert for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds who enjoy nectaring on the flowers of this widespread native annual.
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There are few New England shrub species who have flower catkins on winter twigs. Among those who do include Sweetgale (Myrica gale), Sweet-fern, Speckled Alder, American Hazelnut, and the shrub featured here, Beaked Hazelnut (Corylus cornuta). It won't be long before these male flower catkins elongate and release their pollen, but for now they wait. The closely related American Hazelnut (C. americana) typically has longer catkins, hairier twigs, and blunter end buds vs. the short catkins, mostly hairless twigs, and more pointed end buds of Beaked Hazelnut. Both species have bark marked with light-colored lenticels. You can increase your chances of finding the edible nuts of Beaked Hazelnut by learning to recognize this species year-round in your local landscape. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)
I got serious about foraging acorns for the first time this fall. When ripe acorns started dropping, I started picking. I say ripe because not every acorn that falls is ripe. Early drops, which often have caps still firmly attached, tend to be of poor quality. It's better to avoid these early imposters, and wait for cap-less acorns to fall. (Ripe acorns can sometimes drop with their caps still on, but when you pick them up the caps will typically separate easily, instead of holding tight.) Continue reading Foraging Wild Nuts: Northern Red Oak
Having documented the growth cycle of American Hazelnut last year, I decided to track Beaked Hazelnut (Corylus cornuta) this year. The flowers and leaf shape of the two species are similar, but the developing fruits differ noticeably. While I regularly encounter Beaked Hazelnut shrubs, they're typically shaded densely and produce few if any fruits. Continue reading Foraging Wild Nuts: Beaked Hazelnut
Ever wondered where pine nuts come from? From pine tree cones*, of course! This partly dismantled cone of Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus) didn't have any pine nuts to show (botanically speaking they are seeds), but the paired indents on the underside of each bract mark where the seeds developed. Nearly mature, unopened cones can be collected and dried or heated to induce opening. While all of our native species produce edible seeds, none are as large as imported, store-bought varieties.
*These female seed cones are not to be confused with the short-lived male pollen cones.